International and Cambodian Civil Society Condemns Continued Arbitrary Detention, Calls for an End to Judicial Harassment and Violence against Human Rights Defenders

Joint Organizations

March 5, 2017 - We, the undersigned international and Cambodian civil society organizations, strongly condemn the brazen attacks carried out against Cambodian human rights defenders (HRDs) over recent weeks, in what appears to be a deliberate strategy by the Cambodian authorities to punish and deter any expression of dissent ahead of the upcoming commune and national elections, scheduled for June 2017 and July 2018 respectively.

We are alarmed at the escalating severity of the government’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, which has seen HRDs targeted with threats, judicial harassment and even violence. Human rights defenders play an essential role in holding those in power to account. Attacks on those who peacefully and legitimately carry out such work are unlawful, unacceptable, and must cease.

We are alarmed at the escalating severity of the government’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, which has seen HRDs targeted with threats, judicial harassment and even violence

Human rights defenders Mr. Ny Sokha, Mr. Yi Soksan, Mr. Nay Vanda, Ms. Lim Mony and Mr. Ny Chakrya have as of today spent 311 days in arbitrary detention in Phnom Penh. In November 2016 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concluded that they had been discriminated against on the basis of their status as human rights defenders and that this, along with violations of their right to a fair trial, renders their imprisonment arbitrary. The WGAD called on the Cambodian government to immediately release the five, yet more than three months later, the HRDs remain behind bars with the investigation into the politically motivated charges still ongoing.

On 23 February, four of the five detainees appeared before the Court of Appeal to challenge their continued detention. For the sixth time, release on bail was denied. Furthermore, on Monday 27 February, all five were scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court in a public hearing to challenge a decision made last year to extend their pre-trial detention for a further six months. However, the necessary order summoning the detainees to the court was not sent to any of the three different prisons where the five are being held, with the result that the hearing has been postponed.

Last week also saw long-standing land activist and human rights defender Tep Vanny convicted of "intentional violence with aggravated circumstances" in a case dating back to 2013. The conviction came after over five months’ of pre-trial detention on a baseless charge that was suddenly reactivated following Tep Vanny’s arrest in August 2016 while protesting for the release of the five human rights defenders. In a clear attempt to silence one of the Cambodian authorities’ most fearless and outspoken critics, Vanny was sentenced to two years and six months' imprisonment, as well as a series of fines and compensation payments amounting to the equivalent of $2,250 USD. A group of Tep Vanny’s supporters, who had peacefully gathered outside the court building, were also violently dispersed by police and security forces, leaving some in need of hospital treatment. These events follow on the heels of a 2016 conviction of Tep Vanny and three other activists, on charges also reactivated in August 2016, for ‘obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances’ and ‘insult of a public official’ in relation to a 2011 protest despite a lack of any credible evidence. The six-month sentence has been upheld on appeal but is yet to be enforced.

These developments have occurred in an increasingly hostile environment for human rights in Cambodia. In the last month alone, two human rights monitors were summonsed for questioning under suspicion of committing ‘intentional violence’ during a protest at which they were victims of beatings by security guards. A human rights NGO was also publicly threatened with legal action in relation to their publication of research highlighting child labour and debt bondage in brick factories. In a further backlash against legitimate advocacy, 48 NGOs were threatened with legal action for “putting pressure on the court” – a criminal offense that appears uniquely reserved for those critical of government – following their criticism of the conviction of three environmental activists.

We are seriously concerned that such rhetoric may lead to an increasingly dangerous situation for human rights defenders and all individuals who wish to exercise their fundamental freedoms

In addition, the characterisation of any form of protest as “colour revolutions” by leading government figures appears to be an attempt to delegitimize any form of peaceful protest and pre-emptively justify disproportionate and violent crackdowns on demonstrations. We are seriously concerned that such rhetoric may lead to an increasingly dangerous situation both for human rights defenders and for all individuals who wish to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association throughout the election period.

These attacks on HRDs are in violation of Cambodia’s legally binding obligations under international human rights law. Additionally, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders explicitly restates the internationally-guaranteed right of all individuals to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the duty of each state to take all necessary measures to protect individuals against any violence, threats, retaliation, discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of this right.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is currently holding its 34th session in Geneva. The international community - in particular signatories to the Paris Peace Agreements who undertook to “promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia” – must join us in publicly condemning these violations and urging the Cambodian authorities to comply with international law.

We call on the Cambodian authorities to cease their unlawful attacks on human rights defenders and immediately release all those detained as a result of the legitimate exercise of their fundamental freedoms.

This joint statement is endorsed by:

1. Afghanistan Journalists Center
2. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
4. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
5. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
6. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
7. Association of Caribbean Media Workers
8. Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), India
9. Boeung Kak Community
10. Boeung Trabek Community
11. Borei Keila Community
12. Bytes For All, Pakistan
13. CamASEAN
14. Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA)
15. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
16. Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM)
17. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
18. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
19. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
20. Cartoonists Rights Network International
21. Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
22. Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
23. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
24. Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
25. Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
26. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
27. Equitable Cambodia (EC)
28. Former Boeung Kak Women Network Community
29. Free Media Movement
30. Front Line Defenders
31. Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
32. Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
33. Globe International Center, Mongolia
34. Human Rights Defenders Alert, India
35. Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
36. Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Indonesia
37. Index on Censorship
38. Indigenous Youth at Prome Community, Preah Vihear Province
39. Indradevi Association (IDA)
40. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka
41. INSEC (Informal Sector Service Centre), Nepal
42. Institute for Media and Society
43. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
44. International Press Centre
45. Journaliste en danger
46. Kuoy Ethnic Community, Prame Village, Preah Vihear province
47. Land Community, I Village Preah Sihanouk province
48. Land Community, Prek Chik Village, Koh Kong
49. Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap province
50. Law and Society Trust (LST), Sri Lanka
51. Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province
52. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
53. Media Institute of Southern Africa
54. Media Watch
55. Mongolia Democracy Network
56. National Union of Somali Journalists
57. Norwegian PEN
58. Odhikar, Bangladesh
59. Pacific Islands News Association
60. Pakistan Press Foundation
61. Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
62. Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)
63. Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PARHA)
64. PILIPINA Legal Resources Center (PLRC)
65. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
66. Programme Against Custodial Torture and Impunity (PACTI), India
67. Progressive Voice, Myanmar
68. Railway Station, Tuol Sangkae A Community
69. Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), Pakistan
70. SOS International Airport Community
71. South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
72. South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM)
73. Southeast Asian Press Alliance
74. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
75. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
76. Think Centre, Singapore
77. Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
78. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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